BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Just weeks before demolition work was finally scheduled to start on the former Shoreline Apartments on Niagara Street, fire tore through the building Wednesday. City officials say the demolition will move forward as scheduled.
Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo told News 4 the fire appears to have been started by squatters in the building.
No one was supposed to have been living there for years, although even on Thursday morning, our News 4 crew saw people inside the apartment buildings.
Back in 2016, the building’s owner, Norstar USA, told residents they had to move out so the building could be torn down and new affordable housing could be built in its place.
Since then, though, it has been a waiting game.
“I have had members of my staff checking in with the owners every week on what is happening with the property, when the demolition was going to move forward,” Mayor Byron Brown said.
Demolition will finally begin this month after a preservationist’s court case was resolved.
Mayor Brown says that timeline is unchanged after the fire.
“The fire didn’t expedite things, but I was very concerned that that building was an eyesore, that it was being vandalized, people were breaking out windows, and even the fire that happened yesterday was suspicious in nature,” Brown said.
Brown says the demolition contractor and the building’s owner will have to ensure no one is in the building when the demolition begins, and the city has a strategy to help which Brown says will be announced later.
The demolition work will also likely have to include asbestos abatement.
Firefighters had to be sprayed down on the scene Wednesday after reports that they could have come into contact with asbestos in the building. The once-popular building material has been linked to severe illnesses.
“We tried to get assembly line set up so the guys can get hosed down, get into the rig and back to quarters and get warm as quickly as possible,” Commissioner Renaldo said.
It’s unclear whether the FBI took measures to decontaminate personnel after they conducted training exercises in the Shoreline Apartments in 2018. Nearby residents say they were not warned about the drill before hand, and they were shaken by the explosions that occurred there.
Whatever happened in the building then – and since then – Buffalo firefighters were unable to remain inside as they fought the flames this week.
“There was some activity in the building and we thought it wasn’t structurally sound, so we got everyone out as quickly as possible,” Renaldo said.
According to Renaldo, 30 firefighters may have been exposed to asbestos while fighting Wednesday’s fire. A private company from Rochester has taken all of their gear for full decontamination.